When Elliott Erwitt was 70 years in his career as a photographer, his work was being prepared for display in a retrospective exhibition celebrating his quirky and often humorous style and showing images from one of the many library holdings dedicated to him.
Erwitt himself was involved in the exhibition, Home all over the world, at the Ramson Center in Texas, and the experience inspired him to examine his own archive of his work.
Over the course of almost two years, the veteran Magnum photographer searched around 600,000 images, contact sheets and negatives, from those he developed in his sink at home when he was 17 to those that were only taken in 2010.
Every flat surface in his New York studio was cluttered with photos for months. He was assisted by its editor and longtime book designer, Stuart Smith, and his trusted studio manager, Mio Nakamura.
The result is a new photo book: Found, not lost, published by Gost Books and filled with images previously unseen by the public.
The earliest picture in the book was taken in 1947 and the most recent in 2010. Including snapshots of post-war Europe to the former USSR, coast to coast USA to Japan, Brazil and Birmingham, the distant character of Erwitt’s career is reflected here.
He’s a man ready to travel, after all. Born in Paris, he spent his early childhood in Milan before moving to New York in 1939. In his early twenties he was back in Europe and served in a unit of the Army Signal Corps in Germany and France.
Robert Capa brought Erwitt aboard Magnum Photos in 1953 and provided him with professional support to continue his photojournalistic journeys. His commercial work has also taken him around the world, most recently to Cuba and Scotland.
In selecting the 150 archive recordings for the book, Erwitt took the opportunity to review photos he had taken as a younger man with a more experienced eye.
The joke for which his pictures are known has survived this second viewing and shines through the pages. In one picture, what appears to be a cute baby contest in Blackpool (maybe something like that was funny in 1975?) Is pushed into the background when a young Malcolm McDowell, who looks alike in the crowd, gazes at the While staring at him draws a slight scowl at something that is more interesting outside the frame.
So many of the inclusions are quiet and thoughtful, however, more subtle than the sharp visual punchlines he’s been known for for decades.
And in contrast to the established shadow figure of Erwitt’s documentary photography – one that lurks in public spaces to capture ignorant strangers – some of the images are very personal and show, for example, his first wife, Lucienne Van Kanor, his firstborn daughter. Ellen.
“In my nineties, my work looks different than I’ve ever seen it before,” Erwitt said of the book’s selection process. “There is a time for pictures that say hello and there is a time to listen.”
Found, not lostby Elliott Erwitt is published by Gost Books and is available for £ 60